USA Today Downplays Its Own Explanation of Health Care Costs

USA Today Downplays Its Own Explanation of Health Care Costs
Major series fails to understand why premium care has a premium price.

By Dan Gainor
August 31, 2005

     According to the August 31 issue of USA Today, More than one in four Americans are faltering under the burden of health costs. The story, written by Julie Appleby, claimed Medical progress has helped Americans live longer, but the exploding cost of those breakthroughs has polarized the nation.

     The article blamed medical inflation for creating a burden, and it was filled with talk of double digit increases in health insurance premiums and a stream of bills to doctors and labs. USA Today painted a picture of consumers overwhelmed by expensive health care and then buried a key fact: a major reason health care is so expensive is that it can save lives that never would have survived in the past.

     Perhaps unwittingly, USA Today illustrated that point with another story on the front page of its Money section. That article, part of the special Health Care Crunch package running this week in the paper, profiled the family of a 16-year-old boy whose cancer care has cost $3 million in just four years. According to a sidebar, medical care costs $6,423 per person each year. Based on that calculation, the teen cancer patient has cost the equivalent of the care for 467 people and counting.

     Not only that, but The side effects of treatment which range from heart disease to brain damage can linger for decades and cost nearly as much as therapy for the original cancer, said Appleby. In other words, this 16-year-old will grow up to be a $6-million man, at least. The story detailed a wide range of complications and special treatment the teen has received from chemotherapy to blood replacement.

     The main article, titled Even the insured can buckle under health care costs, buried the crux of the problem three paragraphs from the end of a story that spanned more than two full pages. There, Appleby stated, New medical treatments, rising prices and growing demand from aging baby boomers are expected to continue to fuel rapid inflation for years.

     Instead, Appleby focused more on the travails of individuals and the uninsured, downplaying causes and emphasizing costs that only the healthy or wealthy could afford. The series is based on findings from a nationwide survey done in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health.